PUNTA GORDA - A man with three generators in the back of his truck pulled up the day after the hurricane.
He told Frank Petit, 71, that he had a generator for sale. But it was going to cost him $1,000.
"You know you're being scammed," said Petit, whose neighbor bought a similar generator for $600. "But what can you do about it? You have no choice."
Petit, who bought the generator, plans to file a complaint with the state attorney general's office - once his phone service is restored.
Already, 3,172 price gouging complaints have been filed with the Florida attorney general's office. Four lawsuits have been filed against hotels. An unlicensed roofer who was arrested last week faces felony charges.
The number of complaints peaked the sixth day after Hurricane Charley, said Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, but has steadily dropped since then.
"I think we're starting to get a handle on it," Crist said.
The first wave of complaints involved overpriced plywood and motel rooms as the hurricane approached. Now victims are being charged too much for generators, bottled water, gasoline, tree trimming and repair work.
The wife of Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary was approached by a man wanting $23,000 to remove three trees. Haines City police Lt. Fred Daniell talks about a $5 loaf of bread. Cecil Knapp, 67, of Punta Gorda, gripes about a $39.54 plug for his generator that didn't work.
"When you're desperate, you don't argue with them at the time," says Knapp, who found the right plug for $13.
Scam artists are posing as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives to charge for tarps that should be free. Fake insurance claim adjustors are asking for a 25 percent cut of claim amounts, instead of 10 percent. Others claim to be licensed contractors when they're not.
"There's a small distinct minority who will exploit anybody after a storm," said Terry McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The highest number of complaints received by the Attorney General's Office came from Orange County.
"When you look at the path of the storm, the most heavily populated area hit by Hurricane Charley was Orlando," explained Crist.
A price gouging law enacted after Hurricane Andrew calls for a maximum penalty of $1,000 per substantiated case of price gouging. Each case of deceptive business practices carries a $10,000 fine. When the victim is a senior citizen, the fine is $15,000.
Bill and Susan Hare were approached by an independent claims adjustor from Miami, and a man offering cleanup services. "If anybody came, we said, "No thank you,' and sent them away," said Susan Hare, 57.
Petit still doesn't have electricity and is relying on his $1,000 generator. His roof is missing several tiles, and his greenhouse has glass. The windows blew out.
Then he paid $10 for a gas tank. His wife bought an identical one for $5 several days later.
"They were both red. They were the same," he said. "It really irked me."